An up and coming Seattle musician is murdered.
Did Mia take a cab that night?
Since the 1990s, Seattle has been a hotspot for rock-n-roll music. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains all came out of the local music scene. Many people thought the next breakthrough band would be the Gits, a punk rock group fronted by a charismatic 27-year-old named Mia Zapata. Mat Dresdner, a former member of the Gits, was a personal friend of Mia’s:
“I went to many shows where afterwards people didn't even know I was up on stage because their eyes were so transfixed on Mia.”
But on July 7, 1993, Mia’s incredible voice was silenced. At around 2:00 AM, she left a friend's apartment. An hour later, her body was found a couple of miles away. She was lying face up in an almost Christ-like pose. Mia Zapata had been raped, beaten, and then strangled to death. Her death sent shock waves through the tight-knit music community in Seattle. Why had this promising and popular young singer been killed? Was it an obsessed fan, a jealous enemy, or a complete stranger?
You might say Mia was born to be a star. She grew up in Kentucky, the daughter of two television executives. It was at Antioch College where she met the other three members of her band. After five years of performing together, the Gits were attracting the attention of major record companies and planning their first full-scale U.S. tour. According to Richard Zapata, it was like a dream come true for his daughter:
“I don't think I can ever remember my daughter looking so satisfied, so content, so at ease with herself.”
The night of July 6, 1993, began at one of Mia’s favorite bars. She met friends there at around 10:00 PM. Mia was in town only briefly. She and the Gits had been on the road for three weeks and the tour was starting in a matter of days. When Mia left the Comet Tavern, she walked a block east, up Pike Street to a local rehearsal studio. She then visited a friend who lived in the same building as the studio. At around 2:00 AM, Mia left her friend’s apartment, saying she planned to take a cab home. Because Mia didn’t have a driver’s license, she took taxis often and knew many of the local cabbies. This led police and private investigator Leigh Hearon to one of their first scenarios—perhaps Mia was murdered by a cabdriver:
“Mia did not have difficulty expressing her opinion and sometimes this got her into trouble… She could've said something to a cabdriver that she knew that just made that person angry that night.”
However, none of the cab drivers reported picking up Mia that night. About the same time, the bars were closing, and some of her friends were hailing cabs of their own. No one saw Mia. Private Investigator Leigh Hearon had a second theory:
“She also could've gone in the opposite direction. A friend had asked her to spend the night. She lived about five blocks away. She could've gone down eleventh, past the reservoir, and something could've occurred there.”
In fact, something did occur. But according to Hearon, whether it had anything to do with Mia’s death remains a mystery:
“One of the earliest clues that the police received was from a man who had heard a scream—a terrifying scream that night. He was so distraught by it that he actually rushed to see what was going on, but he saw nothing. He lived, however, very close to the reservoir on eleventh where Mia could've gone.”
A third and final theory was that Mia never left the building where she was last seen. The day after her murder, one of Mia's friends stopped by the rehearsal studio and discovered a Gits demo tape and Mia’s personal microphone. According to Hearon, Mia rarely let her microphone out of sight:
“We don't know whether she left it there after practice that night or whether she went back to the studio after visiting her friend. Something happened there, and this was simply left.”
Mia's body was found about two miles from the studio and about three miles from the street where the man heard the screams. Despite a thorough search of the area, Detective Tom Pike of the Seattle Police Homicide Unit noted that little forensic evidence was found:
“This particular investigation has been difficult because we're faced with a situation where we don't know where the actual crime scene was where the murder took place. We obviously only know where we found Mia, which we don't believe is the same.”
Without a crime scene or witnesses, leads quickly faded. As the police investigation stalled, the remaining Gits decided to take action. They hired private investigator Leigh Hearon and staged benefit concerts to raise money for the investigation. The response was overwhelming. Seattle's leading musicians got involved, including Nirvana and rocker Joan Jett:
“I want more than anything for them to be able to find out what happened so there could be some resolution for everybody, because everyone's been working real hard trying to find this person who did this.”
Who killed Mia Zapata and why? The police believe it was a random murder. But investigator Leigh Hearon believes otherwise. She is convinced that Mia knew her killer and that the killer may not have acted alone:
“I think it's entirely likely that a second person was involved in transporting Mia's body, if not in the actual homicide. I base this on the fact that Mia's body was found with her arms out and her legs crossed, as if two people had been carrying her and laid her down.”
Ten years after Mia Zapata was killed, Seattle police tested DNA from the case against a national database. They found a match. Jesus Mezquia, a felon living in Miami, Florida, was arrested and charged with murder. Mezquia did not know Mia Zapata but lived just three blocks from where her body was found. Mezquia was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 36 years in prison.